Nightwood: Tell me about the writing process.
Chris Banks: Most of Alternator was written during the pandemic. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder so when you drop a pandemic on top of a poet struggling with that, well, they write two manuscripts—one of lightly surreal poems, one of narrative sonnets—in about a year. I then “simmered” down both manuscripts to two tight sections, and added a long poem called “Core Samples of the Late-Capitalist Dream” and, voila, Alternator was born! Anxiety can block other poets, but it has always been a creative engine for me.
NW: Did anything surprise you during the process?
CB: Yes, I really enjoyed the editing process. Virginia Konchan did a great job editing this book, and Silas White of Nightwood Editions also had excellent suggestions about lines and images, and which sections of poems to lead with, so this book was very much a collaborative affair. It’s always a treat when people read you closely, and help you to produce the best book that you can possibly write. I think we accomplished that with Alternator.
NW: What lives on your writing desk?
CB: Alas, I live in a house of six people so I do not have an office. I have a dining room table at 6 a.m. What lives there is my laptop and a big white porcelain mug of coffee. Sometimes I scatter a few poetry titles around my laptop to prime my thinking before writing, but most often I just sit and wait patiently with a cat on my lap, waiting for a title, a dominant image, or a first line to get me started.
NW: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
CB: Work hard. Write better. Grind. Believe in yourself. You will get better, and unfortunately, a lot of failure is part of the process of getting better.
NW: What is a fun fact about yourself?
CB: I wore three team crests on my ninth-grade high school jacket in 1984: Basketball, Curling and Break Dance Squad.
Thank you so much for joining us Chris! Make sure to check out Alternator here.
Alternator blends catastrophe and consciousness, modern living and past transgressions, off-kilter imagery and the “hidden room” of the unsayable to construct a polyphonic triumph. Chris Banks threads fire through the eye of his imagination, and the product is these poems born of whole cloth: surrealist meditations, modern ghazals and powerful narrative sonnets that are both alive and burning.
Chris Banks is a Canadian poet and author of eight collections of poetry, most recently Alternator by Nightwood Editions in 2023. His first full-length collection, Bonfires, was awarded the Jack Chalmers Award for Poetry by the Canadian Authors Association in 2004. Bonfires was also a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for best first book of poetry in Canada. His poetry has appeared in The New Quarterly, Arc Magazine, The Antigonish Review, Event, The Malahat Review, GRIFFEL, American Poetry Journal and PRISM International, among other publications. He lives and writes in Kitchener, Ontario.